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Baylor volunteers cheer on Avon walk participants during their 39 mile walk to raise awareness and money for breast cancer.

Baylor College of Medicine has received two new grants totaling $325,000 from the Avon Foundation for Women that will help its physicians and researchers continue to improve access to life-saving breast cancer prevention and treatment resources at Harris Health System’s Smith Clinic and to uncover new clues about breast cancer that spreads to the brain – one of the deadliest forms of the disease.

Dr. Mothaffar Rimawi, medical director, and Dr. Polly Niravath, assistant professor, both in the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor, received a $125,000 grant to support the Pink 4 Life program at the Smith Clinic. Baylor physicians provide care at the Harris Health’s Smith Clinic and Ben Taub Hospital.

The program was started 11 years ago at Ben Taub Hospital to improve access to screening and prevention resources for the under and uninsured community.

The Avon Foundation has been a staunch supporter of the program, enabling Rimawi and team to dramatically improve care for breast cancer by detecting it at an earlier stage, offering a better chance for survival and more options for treatments.

"Avon has been a generous supporter of our efforts to provide care for minority and underserved women,” said Rimawi. “This grant will help us continue our efforts to provide care for women with breast cancer without regard to their ability to pay.

Dr. Dario Marchetti, a professor of pathology and member of the NCI-designated Dan L Duncan Cancer Center at Baylor, received a $200,000 grant to further decipher the roles of circulating tumor cells (the ‘seeds' of cancer metastasis) in breast cancer dormancy.

“It is still unknown whether and how breast cancer circulating tumor cells differ in their capacity to circulate while maintaining a metastatic potential,” said Marchetti. “Rates of circulating tumor cell survival can be highly variable, lasting less than a few hours in some patients but for decades in others.  This can lead to many questions associated to yet unexplored mechanisms of circulating tumor cells responsible for dormancy, along with their properties and functionalities.”

The grants were presented Sunday at the closing ceremony of the Foundation’s annual Houston Avon Walk. For the eighth year in a row, Baylor proudly served as the official medical sponsor of the walk and provided care to the more than 1,250 participants (from 40 states including 145 breast cancer survivors and 258 men) who walked 39 miles over two days to raise critically important funds for breast cancer research and care in the community. Niravath served as the medical director of the walk.

"It is a privilege to serve as the medical director of the Avon Walk and witness, first hand, the perseverance and sheer will of all these people who have come together for the very noble purpose of fighting breast cancer,” said Niravath. “Every single year, I am inspired by these stories of courage and strength."

Niravath oversaw a team of more than 60 licensed healthcare professionals – a majority Baylor staff – who cared for the walkers for a variety of issues including blister care and dehydration.

The event raised $2.7 million to accelerate breast cancer research; improve access to screening, diagnosis and treatment; and educate people about breast cancer.